Ted A. Nash, a true giant of American and international rowing, passed away on July 3. Born October 29, 1932, Ted was 88 years old.
A true icon of rowing in the United States, Ted was an athlete or coach with 11 Olympic teams dating back to 1960, when he won Olympic Gold in the straight four; he won bronze in the straight four in 1964, and coached on nine Olympic teams since.
When many think of Ted, they recall the almost fantastical stories from his long career, told by countless athletes and coaches from multiple eras. Many of the stories nearly defy belief - except that so many folks have a Ted Nash story of their own for which they can vouch unequivocally. So many "Ted Nash Stories" are at the very edge of believability - except, of course, your own Ted Nash story.
And the truth is that Ted lived his life so intensely, so creatively, so innovatively, and so without boundaries that the "Ted Nash Story" has almost become its own form of legend. Everyone has a "Ted Nash story," and the only thing that keeps you from thinking "that is simply not believable' is that you have your own Ted Nash story for which you were there, saw and participated in the whole thing, and that you add to the lore yourself.
This is a quintessential example, in which Chris Ahrens describes an episode witnessed by at least a dozen people in Bulgaria in 2004, when Ted was 72 years old:
Ted worked himself hard, he worked his crews hard, and he worked the angles, no question. In 1987 he arrived at Nationals in Indianapolis with the Penn AC straight four, as well as a second hull with a hole carved in the bow deck. Ted had enlisted a very diminutive (just over three feet tall) friend to climb into the bow section so the hull could serve as a coxed four - but with the boat still steered using a toe, no PA system, and no other jobs other than to take the ride - although Espe said later that over time she got very good at giving splits. (I have heard a story that the coxswain took a bottle of bubbles out and blew them on the course during the race, but can't vouch for the provenance; anyone??)
Club rowing in the United States had no greater champion, and if Ted's tactics in promoting club rowing and his home club Penn AC did not always please the powers that be, it was always extremely clear what he was fighting for - the young athletes he coached. There was a bit of the Trickster in Ted, and he often came up with sly, clever ways to get what his teams needed, and even those who he outfoxed had to appreciate his ingenuity.
But "Ted Nash Stories" do not always have to involve heroics leaps off a bike into unknown waters or taking a jigsaw to a bow deck. In my own time rowing in Philadelphia, I saw Ted pull up alongside countless crews, having noticed something that he might be able to help with - sometimes it was something for the whole crew to work on, or maybe it was for one athlete who Ted saw was struggling with something, and Ted had a tactic for working on that he had learned over the years - and he would share his knowledge and especially his enthusiasm.
Ted was well known for sometimes very detailed technical instruction, and he shared it without prejudice or expectation of anything in return - adding to the lore as well as the ranks of athletes who learned from him. Truly countless athletes got better thanks to Ted.
When Ted came up to your boat, there was always an element of showmanship mixed with straight coaching and compassion for you as an athlete, which was absolutely part of what made Ted such a giant. With Ted it was never just trying to do something a little better; there was always a sense of mission, of fun, and of being part of the family of rowing.
Eleven Olympic teams dating back to 1960, and countless world championships, and long tenures at Penn and Penn AC, coaching men's crews and women's crews alike, all the while pulling up to rookie crews on the river to help them get better - think about how many lives Ted Nash touched and influenced in that time (not to mention how many coaches benefitted from Ted's formidable collection of tools, parts, hacks, and more that he hauled to every regatta - Ted's Penn AC regatta box was the best-stocked in the biz, formidable and rightfully famous). For many, Ted was a true father figure, and not only guided them to achievements in rowing, but guided them toward adulthood. John Chatzky was one of them.
"I coxed for Ted for five years, both as an undergrad walk on at Penn and for a few national team campaigns over the summer," Chatzky said.
"Other than my father, Ted was the most significant male influence in my life. I met him at the age of nineteen and for five consecutive years and during the first extended period that I was away from home, he helped me to develop into an independent thinking adult. He was tough but fair and very intimidating, but you wanted to please him and he earned all of our respect. He told his athletes that we were a band of brothers, and forty plus years later that remains true. My Penn teammates are among my closest friends in life.
"He taught me so many important things about rowing but, much more importantly, he taught me lessons about life: He taught me that you need to be passionate about your pursuits, and that one couldn't be truly happy or truly fulfilled in one's life unless you were passionate about something. He taught me that it's OK if, from time to time to time, your passions cloud your judgments.
"He taught me about dedication, determination, discipline and excellence. He also taught me about commitment and the need to challenge yourself and to challenge others around you to be better. He suggested that to achieve great things that we needed to take great risks and that it was OK to fail and to be imperfect, that we failed only when we dared to push ourselves and that we only got better when we confronted our failures. Ted taught me that it was more important to be respected than to be liked and that it was OK if others questioned your methods as long as you believed in yourself.
"He changed and affected the course of my entire life (and the lives of hundreds of others, men and women) and I will be forever grateful for his support and his teachings."
In our own family, we got to know Ted first as a legend, then as a coach, then as a friend who wrote a hand-written letter every year after receiving our holiday card with comments on that year's photo, with warm greetings from Ted and his family. Ted had a true personal touch that, instead of running counter to his status as an icon of the sport, was actually a foundational element of what made him so important to so many people.
A combination of all these things - the man, the legend, the wellspring of many of the greatest rowing stories ever, the rowing purist and extremely thorough coach, the thoughtful friend and even patriarch that made Ted into very much a father figure for many young athletes - is what made Ted Nash into one of the most beloved figures in our sport.
And if we may tell one more Ted Nash story, how about this: let's acknowledge that Ted, a 60-year champion of USA rowing, a USA veteran, and a man who epitomized the American spirit in our sport, who Mike Teti calls "rowing's true Super Hero," left us smack dab in the middle of Independence Day weekend.
The extraordinary depth of feeling the people lucky enough to have known him well have for Ted is almost unmatched in the sport, and that is what constitutes his true legacy. We were tremendously lucky to have him.
Ted's son Ted III shared this update on Ted's surviving family: "-Jan is Teds second wife, a wonderful and caring woman who committed herself to keeping Ted active and healthy as the debilitative condition worsened. Bless her! - Aldina Nash-Hampe ,85, was Ted's first wife and is my and Aaron's mother, still in good health and rowing in the Asheville NC area. - Aaron is the older son, 59, living in Buxton NC, builder, no children. -Ted's half sister Paulette and her daughter Stacy are both living in California -I'm Ted Alison Nash III; that's right, my dad was junior but no one ever knew that; I am 57 and have three daughters, Audrey Alexandra Nash, 22, a grad student at U of Hawaii; Aislinn Marie Nash, 17, a high school senior; Sophia Caroline Nash, 15, high school junior. I continue to row, compete and coach as founding member of Lake Lure Racing in North Carolina. I am a builder as well."
Ted III also shared that Ted Jr served in the Army as a pilot, where he flew a general around the theater, and also taught guerilla war tactical defense skills at Fort Benning. Dan Beery shares some insight on Ted's service below.
A private burial is planned, and there will likely be a celebration of Ted's life in the future; row2k will post information as soon as available.
Tom Bohrer: I will never forget my first meeting with Ted down in Florida. He said if I was serious about rowing I needed to move to Philly. I asked where was I going to live - he said don't worry about it we will find you a place to live. I then asked what I would do for work and Ted said don't worry about it, we will find you a job. I called my mother and said I was moving to Philly to continue rowing - she asked where are you going to live and do for work and I said Ted told me not to worry about it. My mother then Aasked who is this 'Ted?' My journey with Ted just began.
I am very sad and mourn the loss of Ted. To me Ted was not only a coach and mentor, but also like a father to me. Ted guided me to be the best in all phases of my life. There was no secret sauce to this - work hard, appreciate what you have, bring others up around you and love what you do. I am sure the hundreds of other athletes that he coached would say the same.
He would help anyone who asked for it. He has a long list of athletes that made in to the Olympics or National Team, but the list is longer of those that he helped get to a National Team trial, or win a medal at nationals, or make the final at the Navy Day Regatta. Those athletes are probably the most appreciative. When he gave you his time - he gave you his time. Ted was fully immersed, authentic, and he would make anyone feel like he cared- and he did. He loved the underdog and getting the most out of each person.
I have a lifetime of memories and stories from the time spent with Ted. I will never forget him and grateful for what he taught me.
Sean Colgan: 'TED,' rarely 'Coach.' Occasionally 'Coach Nash,' but the sobriquet in worldwide circulation was simply the egalitarian 'Ted.'
Mention Ted at any rowing event, and a gentle faint smile slowly creeps across the face and a heartfelt story emerges...
Ferocious warrior on the water as a multiple Olympic medal winner. Meticulous preparer of crews for races or practices. Gentle helper to all and sundry at copious regattas spanning the globe and North America.
A whirlwind of energy before races. As other creep within themselves, perhaps steeling themselves in anticipation of the pain approaching, Ted would be washing the boats, checking bolts, polishing race plans... always enough to divert your attention to your own inner race demons to remember you belong to a CREW. Working together.
Equally capable of over tightening an oarlock nut as to guide a freshmen on how to tie a tie for a road trip. At ease and in command of fellow Olympic Champions as with raw recruits desperately attentive to every word of magical advice he might impart. Fierce with an intense stare at every single practice, yet tender holding his god daughter as a new born baby named Eimile Allison.
No practice nor training session ever just happened. Ted explained the reasons for the pieces and how it fit the puzzle that was the 'season.'
Ted's enthusiasm was infectious. One marveled from afar at his daily ability to be 100%, all cylinders firing on 95 octane, all horsepowered at full throttle to assist everybody to reach their potential.
Potential was not measured in a mere resuscitation of victories or losses but in the improvement of people as combinations within crews.
Ted coached everyone regardless of their abilities; his coaching victories in the Third and Fourth Eights were legendary as were his world champion fours with camp rejects…
For every Hugh Stevenson, a stud from Henley, there was a Curt Kaufmann walkon and IRA champion.
Ted was not an armchair general... He was out in the worst of weather or workouts, regardless of the climatic conditions. Commando run through rain swollen streams? Judo practice before the advent of ergs? Ted taught, participated, and led.
Ted was a cat that always landed on his feet... the true stories abound of his ability to triumph in any situation... coaching, army commando, untangling complex cargo conditions in war torn Iraq or language barriers in Guangshou unloading ships with his telltale curved baseball cap, shorts, whistle and clipboard.
With Ted, there was never a problem; certainly situations awaiting a solution which he would soon discern, if nothing more than adding duct tape or a few tight strands of black tape on the oarlock.
At any river, whether a Schuylkill Navy regatta or the World Championships, spare parts could always be discovered in Ted's gigantic treasure chest sized tool and parts chest always available for friend or foe alike.
Ted's sportsmanship was heart felt and body deep. Never one to gloat over an upset victory nor morose in defeat. His smile was genuine, his handshake firm and his eyes locked on yours, trophy at the ready to bestow to the rival university while already preparing for the return race in the ensuing year.
From his Olympic Victory in Rome to his last major coaching victory with the 2011 Pan American games WL1X, Ted was erect, steady, in control and wearing proudly his red white and blue USA uniforms, which were countless in his closet. Each race was a new event, no beginning and no future, just that moment of you and he, in the space, all concept of time and space vaporized, his attention focused just on you and the crews. There were other races that day, but you knew, knew, knew it was just your race that counted that day, whether varsity or third four, A final or back of the C final.
Standards? Ha, timed tested and never faltered. Ted had terms and conditions that were non negotiable. Mutual respect, 100% at every practice, total team support, punctual, polite, strict adherence to your crew fellow members.
Strict but forgiving... numerous transgressions were ameliorated by dropping and giving 20 pushups.
Character? 56 years and never one foul word exited his lips, never, no matter what happened where with whom wherever.
Still rowing and racing at 85, Ted succumbed to Lewy Body Dementia on 3 July, the birthday of his goddaughter of which he was the best. Despite races or missions spanning the world, Ted never missed a birthday, Christmas, graduation or special event. He had a body of tempered steel but a heart of gold.
Never 'just a coach' but a COACH OF MEN. When we alums gather the Tribes, like at Ted's 80th Birthday, the palaver is not about W's or L's, but about the impact Ted imprinted with indelible ink on all our lives.
We thought the extra sprints or weights or runs were about beating Harvard or the Soviet Union. NO, it was about pushing ourselves beyond our perceived thoughts, emotions, abilities, talent or lack thereof, endurance, pain; that we could forge our own destinies with dignity within the rules, not just on the river but in life.
I know of no one who was not a success who rowed or was touched by Ted; NO ONE. For Ted imparted that whisper in your inner ear that you can always do one more rep, last another minute, go beyond your perceived personal prejudices.
In our last Penn alum eight outing in the faint light of the crisp rising sun on Sunday morning in late autumn 2019, Ted was still erect in form, strong in limb, firm in voice and unflinching in Spirit.
Phil Stekl: I had a wonderful dad, so when I say that Ted Nash was like a second father to me, it is not because there was a void in that department. Ted's calling was to make fast boats, but he knew that it all started with a search beyond the physiology, with a gaze into the hearts of his charges. Ted certainly made fast boats. But along the way he also made more complete, self-aware young men and women - because he knew us, because he cared.
And what's the measure of sterling influence? When you ask yourself, in circumstances involving your own children, what Ted would have said or, more compelling yet, you TELL your children what Ted would have said, you know that you've been deeply touched. There may be more facets to the legacy of Theodor A. Nash than one man or woman can definitively convey. I am grateful to have enough of Ted within me to be one of those voices.
Dan Lyons: It is hard to believe that this wonderful man of such life and energy, a force of nature, is no longer with us. I'll grieve, with all of us, by reflecting on what he has meant to me and my life's journey. So many memories of his impact on all of us; conversations that changed lives, inspirational memories that showed us all what is possible. He gave all of us so much love, in essence. No longer here? Wow. If the rest of us can live on in others' memories like Ted will live on in ours - may we all be as fortunate. Great memories of a great life lived by a truly great man.
Mike Teti: Ted was rowing's true Super Hero! In addition to being a great athlete he was a great coach, mentor and most importantly a true friend! He will be missed.
Stan Bergman: Ted was the best, he had a big impact on me and my coaching career. Even after he left Penn he would go out in the launch with me and coach the crews and have great suggestions; the year our guys won the national championship he gave us the sprint sequence for the last 500 meters that got us a two foot victory. He was such a dynamic personality - the guys were in awe of him. l know a lot of guys are doing stadiums and weight circuits in heaven - he gave a lot to all of us.
Wyatt Allen: Such a wonderful man and I feel so fortunate to have worked with him for a small sliver of his incredible coaching career- he had a huge impact on me athletically and personally.
Oli Rosenbladt: "Ted coached me at Penn AC during what would eventually turn out to be my last summer of elite rowing, in 1997. I was older than most of the guys there, an ex-lightweight (or "weenie" as Ted used to not-so-affectionately call us smaller guys), but I did my best to work hard, enjoy the process, and take a few good, hard strokes while I was there.
That summer, the Elite Nationals was at Oak Ridge, and our Penn AC crews were against a pretty formidable group from Mike Teti's first USA men's selection camp. I was in the Penn AC "B" eight, and just prior to boating for the final, I did my best to pump the group up by letting them know that, even in my time as a lightweight rower, any time we raced, you could never overlook the Penn AC heavies at a regatta because they always carried themselves with a swagger and a formidable attitude, and now that I was racing at Penn AC, I wanted to row like that.
I didn't know it at the time, but Ted was nearby and heard what I said, so at the end of the summer he pulled me aside, thanked me for that comment, and gave me a gift: the winner's certificate from the Schuylkill Navy regatta Men's Open 8+ (the ones they used to do, which had the whole boat lineup on it, and which I had raced in and, which we'd won). Ted let me know in a few words that he appreciated what I'd said, but, in doing so, gave me the most profound respect for him, and for the way he personally acknowledged something that other coaches might have simply let pass."
Mike West, Penn 1969: Well, men, where does one start - how do you put iinto words that others will understand, just how much someone meant to you and what that person did for you?
A chapter, a very happy chapter, of my life has closed and I can only hope you all feel similarly. I won't belabor the point here anymore than I need to, but I will share with you that I wrote Ted a very heartfelt letter a couple of years ago telling him how much my time with him meant to me and how it helped mold me as young person and naval officer. I'm so very glad I did that.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Ted was a comment I made in a speech at one of the various Penn crew family dinners, maybe ten years ago. After extoling how much I'd gotten out of rowing for Ted (who was in attendance), I turned to him and said "Coach, if any man who ever rowed for Ted Nash were ever to say to me 'Mike, I've got your back,' it would never occur to me to look over my shoulder." Ted was visibly moved by that remark, and that made me so very happy. That's how strongly I felt about him and about all of you.
The last thing I ever said to Ted, as we all departed that little restaurant in Manyunk not too long ago, was "Coach, my father made me a patriot, but you made me a man."
"Sailor, rest your oar."
Dan Beery There is one trip that I remember specifically with Ted. He wanted me to race in Augusta, and for some reason he decided that for this trip, I was the athlete he was going to take. I'm sure you remember the Dodge PACRA Assault Van? The trip began with me arriving at his house in Medford Lakes. It was cold that early spring morning and Ted had all of the doors open to the house to bring in fresh air downstairs for Jan. The upstairs would remain warm for her, and the downstairs would gradually warm up with the sunlight. It was a small thing, but one of the small, thoughtful, unique things that Ted would do. As we began the very long drive, he had a very serious and long talk with me. The topics were shaving, professionalism around the boathouse, my general physical appearance, the dangers of partying too much, technique, racing, comparisons of myself to Tom Bohrer, Bob Espeseth, Dan Lyons and especially Sean Colgan. I think this was the first time it really began to sink in how deeply he cared about these guys, and all of his athletes, I began to realize that there was something much bigger than rowing happening in my relationship with Ted. At that point in my life (mid-late twenties) I was working with the general assumption that the majority of my personal development was concluded. I realized that in Ted's mind-there were a lot of important areas that needed improvement. It wasn't just rowing, he wanted to see me improve as a man. Ed, I think most people that knew Ted would not be surprised to learn that this first phase of the conversation was extremely thorough and it lasted for at least 3 hours. Given Ted's aura, I think people wondered about Ted's military service and all the different ways he served our country. We started driving in the dark. The sun was at mid-morning level and I believe we were somewhere south of our nations' capitol when it occurred to me that perhaps we could shift the conversation and talk about his time in the Army. Ted mentioned working in foreign countries to teach flying. There were some short, punchy stories that Ted used to share with his athletes that made us wonder if he was pulling our legs. However, during the drive he explained how it came about that he learned to fly, he piloted a plane as the personal attaché to a General. He flew this general to accrue flight hours, and used a plane to travel back to the UW boathouse to train. Later, he was put in charge of an air field for several months; basically the soup to nuts description of how he received the training to undertake the mission. The specific airfield he was put in charge of back then was located in Georgia, and all of the details began to make sense.
As we drove he recounted the myriad of challenges to running an airfield. It was a very long and detailed path that described his military career. Ted gave me a lot of very specific and detailed suggestions about how successful missions are planned, the way they should be undertaken, specific advice regarding how to plan, specific advice to treat others with respect - today I call them 'the rules of Ted.' The 'rules of Ted' outline how to undertake successful missions in the military, in rowing, in our careers, and in our lives. Anyone that spent significant time with Ted may call them something different, but we all were indoctrinated into the 'rules of Ted.' There are an untold number of successful athletes - perhaps unaware - living the 'rules of Ted' in their lives. Ted was not a fan of dictatorships and communism. It wasn't part of his daily conversation, and again, there were short punchy jokes; he would say "how are we going to beat the Russians if we can't do 'x," when something would inevitably not go according to plan. During this trip he explained the evils of communism and how it affected the lives of people living in those countries. He described the depravity of leadership in those countries and compared it to our lives in the US. He talked about the Korea, his time there, and contrasted the lives of people in North and South Korea. Thanks to our military, the people of South Korea have a chance to live in freedom, and their lives are sharply contrasted against the lives of North Koreans. The entire conversation was a warning about the evils of communists and dictatorships, a warning that we could never rest, we can never underestimate the evils of communists and dictators. It wasn't the type of conversation I expected to have with Ted. It was detailed, poignant, emotional, his experience spanned the globe… as time has passed, I can see that Ted was right. We can all see that Ted was right about this topic. It was fascinating to learn that beneath the comments 'beating the Russians' there was a man of action with a worldview shaped by an incredible depth of experience. The rules of Ted work because they are based in aggressively and actively caring for others. As an example, during the trip back from Augusta Ted noticed a starving dog on the side of the interstate. Normally I would not notice a skinny dog on the side of the road, and after a weekend of racing I was even less interested. Ted drove up to the next exit on the interstate and turned around, then took another exit to come back and find the dog. We stopped and gave the dog our leftover food. Of course, during this process the PACRA Assault van overheated. As we sat there waiting for the engine to cool, Ted continued to talk with me about his experiences.
In my mind I was annoyed about sitting on the side of the road for 30 minutes, for Ted, it was an opportunity to continue sharing and teaching. Anyone that was around Ted would notice these acts of caring and kindness if an elderly lady needed to use the bathroom on boathouse row, when an athlete from another team needed an emergency boat repair at a race, when a young rower needed a few pointers - Ted was always willing to take the time to help. I do not believe that it is a leap of logic to compare his willingness to assist a skinny pup with his willingness to undertake seemingly 'lost cause' athletes and turn them into champion rowers. Ted's unique mindset of caring for others was contrasted by an effective and extremely challenging training regimen. Uniquely, Ted would even run Lemon Hill with us. I remember one specific evening practice when Ted gave us a weight workout that took us over 2.5 hours to complete. We were reaching the end of the weight session which included multiple sets of deadlift at 225 pounds. We were all exhausted when Ted appeared at the top of the stairs at Penn AC and asked how we were doing, 'are you guys tired?' The atmosphere in the room indicated that we were all indeed very tired. Ted unceremoniously walked up to the deadlift bar and did 10 reps of deadlift at 225, making it look effortless. Ted was almost 70 years old when this happened. He put the weight down and said nonchalantly that he thought the weight wasn't too heavy and that we could finish the workout. Ted walked out of the room leaving us all in a stunned silence.
When you rowed for Ted, you were expected to win. The grueling training regimen, his knowledge and expertise about rowing, his innate kindness and aura all attributed to success for his athletes. I remember a specific conversation with Ted where he expounded on the difference between making the US Team, vs. preparing to win an Olympic medal. He wanted his athletes to understand that these were two very different goals. Ted was an unfailingly kind person, but he would not avoid strong advice and critique if it were necessary. He drove home the topic of specific goals by telling me that it would be much quicker and easier for everyone if he were to buy me a uniform with "USA" on it if that was all we wanted; winning at the world championships or the Olympics was a very different goal. I am certain that all of us are extremely sad to learn that Ted has passed. All of us probably feel that tinge of regret as we wonder what we could have done to let Ted know how much we loved him. Yesterday I learned that Ted wished to have a private service as he did not wish for his athletes to see him. As we seek some form of closure to say good-bye to Ted, it is somehow fitting that we do not get the specific closure of saying goodbye to his physical remains. To me, I hope that I will continue to redeem his investment. My goal is to obtain closure by continuing to aggressively care for others by following the rules of Ted. There is some form of shared unexplained bond between all of us that knew Ted. I think he would be proud of us if we all worked together to improve our sport and turn seemingly lost causes into champions. In closing, I think if Ted were here to speak to us - he would hand us a barely legible workout plan for the week, he would tell us what we were going to do to prepare, he would inspire us with a clever story, he would explain that he was delayed that morning by a herd of water buffalo, and he would tell us "let's get to work, we're not going to beat the Russians by moping around being sad all day."
Ted with the 2004 US Men's Eight
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